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Review: The 5th Wave

Imagine a world where there is no power, little food or water, and billions upon billions of people have been exterminated by otherworldly beings in four “waves” of attacks. Believed to be one of the last people on Earth, sixteen year old Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a headstrong, quippy teenager whose tenacity for survival comes from her determination to find her younger brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) amidst his being taken away, along with other children, to a mysterious, heavily guarded military base.

Such is the basic premise of the film The Fifth Wave, an adaptation of the first book in Rick Yancey’s bestselling young adult series. Unlike the slew of other post apocalyptic tales before it, however, lead heroine Cassie is not The Chosen One or The Special, but just a regular, recently orphaned, teenager equipped with her brother’s beloved teddy bear in one hand and a found M16 in the other. She’s not a great shot and doesn’t spend her time mooning over boys (although two chiseled young men throw themselves at her later in the story), but she’s the first person to quickly piece together that the American military base and those running it, including Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber) and his medical aid Sergeant Reznik (Maria Bello), are not who (or perhaps what) they claim to be.

As you can surmise, the YA novel from which screenwriters Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman, and Jeff Pinkner have adapted, is a richly textured, highly original science fiction tale of what it means to be human and what ties humanity together. It is brimming with fully conceptualized characters, from Cassie to her love interests Ben Parish and Evan Walker (played by Nick Robinson and Alex Roe, respectively) to the squad of toughened children and young adults (here led by It Follows‘ Maika Monroe), and offers a fascinating allegory for mass genocide, death camps and gives young readers an insight into the mentality of child soldiers. To say the least, thematically and intellectually, it’s a heavy read hidden underneath a seemingly standard tale of Humans vs. Aliens.

So how did the movie end up so mediocre? The blame initially falls on lead acting trio Moretz (at this point the poster child for the role of “tough girl in need of love whose parents have died”), Robinson and Roe, who look dazed and unsure of what to do the vast majority of the time. Not to mention, one wonders how the same director (J Blakeson) who did the taut, exceptional thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed could also be at the helm of this film. Cinematographer Enrique Chediak should also shoulder much of the blame as the film’s lighting gets increasingly murky in nighttime scenes and then, for example, suddenly too bright and sunny in a scene where a character is said to be gazing at the stars.

While not a complete disaster, (the gender swapped casting of Maria Bello as Reznik is an inspired choice), The Fifth Wave will disappoint moviegoers and fans of the source material.

[star v=25]

Leora Heilbronn

Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto based film aficionado who has a weakness for musicals and violent action flicks. She can often be spotted reading a wide range of literature or listening to show tunes.